The new Ubuntu is netbook and Windows friendly

When you think of Canonical's Ubuntu Linux, what do you think of? You probably think of a smooth, easy-to-use desktop Linux. You also wouldn't be surprised to know that it came designed to work and play well with netbooks. I bet you would be surprised to know though that part of it, Ubuntu One, the personal cloud service for Ubuntu users, will soon work with Android, iPhone, and Windows.

That's exactly what Canonical is planning for Ubuntu 10.10, which will be available for download on Sunday, Oct. 10 (ie, 10/10/10). I've already reviewed Ubuntu 10.10 and I like it a lot. Give it a try; I think you'll like it, too.

I knew that Canonical, as Steve George Canonical's VP of Business Development told me, was still working hard on making Ubuntu work well with the netbook form factor. George said, "The focus of Ubuntu 10.10 is on consumer users. The netbook market may be quieter, but it's still a happening market. People are using multiple form factors -- netbook and desktop -- and we want to give them both."

To make the netbook more usable, Canonical has introduced the Unity interface, which you'll find in Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook Edition. It is designed for highly mobile computing, making the most of precious screen space on mobile devices. The Unity interface also supports touch and gestures for the increasing number of devices that will support it, with larger icons and a more touch-intuitive interface.

Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu's founder, explained the logic behind Unity was "that people typically have between 3 and 10 launchers on their panels, for rapid access to key applications. We want to preserve that sense of having a few favorite applications that are instantly accessible. Rather than making it equally easy to access any installed application, we assume that almost everybody will run one of a few apps, and they need to switch between those apps and any others which might be running, very easily. ... In particular, we focused on maximizing the available vertical pixels for web browsing. Netbooks have screens which are wide, but shallow. Notebooks in general are moving to wide screen formats. So vertical space is more precious than horizontal space."

Ubuntu Unity netbook interface

The results are quite attractive and practical. I'm looking forward to giving it a run on my Dell Mini 9 netbook.

I also knew, but George spelled it out for me, that while Ubuntu off the net doesn't come with Adobe Flash or MP3 ready to go -- you have to jump through a simple hoops to get them set up -- original equipment manufacturers can get Ubuntu disk images with all the proprietary multimedia ready to be burned on to a hard disk. This implies strongly to me that you can expect to see more PCs and netbooks with Ubuntu ready to go appearing soon.

But one thing you won't see in Ubuntu 10.10, Maverick Meerkat, is the new OpenOffice fork: LibreOffice. LibreOffice will be in the next Ubuntu, 11.04, according to Shuttleworth, but George said it was just too soon to try to get LibreOffice into this production run of Ubuntu.

What I totally didn't see happening was that Canonical would take Ubuntu One, the personal cloud service for Ubuntu users, and add new services expanded features and interoperability with other operating systems including Google's Android, Apple's iPhone and Microsoft Windows. Before this, Ubuntu One was something like Dropbox, another cloud-based file storage, syncing and sharing program. While Dropbox will work on Linux, Ubuntu One is turning into something far more than just an online file service.

In a statement, Jane Silber, CEO of Canonical, said, "Ubuntu One's personal cloud services will put Ubuntu at the heart of many users' computing worlds even when they need or prefer to use other platforms. Unity has the opportunity to change how we think about our use of computers."

While Ubuntu One Basic is free with 2GB of free storage, you can the paid Ubuntu One Mobile service to stream your own online music collection to your Ubuntu desktop, Windows or an Android or iPhone smartphone. In the future, said George, you'll also be able to use Ubuntu One Mobile to hold your video or photo collections and stream them to any of these platforms as well.

The native Windows client and mobile clients are now in beta. George said that the Windows client should be available by the end of the month, Android within a week, and the iPhone version whenever Apple gives the application its blessing.

As before, the Ubuntu operating system versions, including Netbook Edition with the Unity interface, will be available free of charge for download on Sunday, October 10. If you're already an Ubuntu users can you can upgrade directly from Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. Ubuntu One Mobile will cost $3.99 per month or USD $39.99 annually. An Ubuntu One 20-pack storage, which includes an additional 20GBs of storage, will cost USD $2.99 per month or USD $29.99 annually for each 20GB package. Yes, that's right; I checked with Canonical, it's actually cheaper if you get Ubuntu One Mobile with the additional 20GBs of storage.

So, Canonical isn't just releasing a new version of Ubuntu; they're also releasing a new way to get to your data, music, and music even if you don't run Ubuntu Linux. Interesting don't you think? Maybe we are on our way to a cloud-computing world.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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